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Updated Monday, December 10, 2012 at 07:12 PM

Same-sex weddings usher in new era in Washington state

By Brian M. Rosenthal and Erik Lacitis
Seattle Times staff reporters

From the lobby of Seattle City Hall to private living rooms in Spokane and at churches, courtrooms and wineries in towns and cities in between, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples gathered Sunday to do what not long ago seemed impossible: get married.

The first to wed under Washington state's new same-sex-marriage law, they arrived by countless paths — from the Bellevue retirees who'd spent decades together to the Olympia college students who got engaged last month on election night.

A few hosted elaborate nuptials to widely proclaim their love. Many, given the brief time they had to prepare, joined in lively group weddings at Seattle City Hall and places of worship around the state.

And some, such as the Lynnwood couple whose relationship caused one of them to be discharged from the Navy, held small signing ceremonies to make legal the commitments they already considered unbreakable.

But on Sunday, the newlyweds agreed: This was history.

"I didn't realize how much I felt like a second-class citizen until today, when I'm not," Seattle technology worker Jay McCanta, 52, said, moments after marrying his partner of six years, Brad McCanta. "I never thought this day would come."

More than 1,000 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in counties across Washington since the state's voter-approved marriage law took effect Thursday. Because of a three-day waiting period, Sunday marked the first day they could wed.

Many couples said they plan to marry later, especially during Gay Pride weekend in June.

Most ceremonies on Sunday, including group events that simultaneously united many couples, were in Seattle. Often, those sharing the spotlight had little in common other than the fact that last week, they were not allowed to marry, but on Sunday they could — and did.

The events in Seattle culminated with a reception at the Paramount Theatre attended by an estimated 2,000 people, and the wedding of the matriarchs of the Washington same-sex-marriage movement, Pete-e Petersen and Jane Abbott Lighty.

In Eastern Washington, where many voted against the same-sex-marriage law, the relatively few ceremonies were mostly smaller affairs like the one at the Pioneer Park aviary in Walla Walla. There, Kathleen Claymore and Shara Orcutt, the only couple in the county to marry, did so at the spot where they became engaged.

Also among Sunday's newlyweds were some from out of state, especially Oregon, who came to take advantage of the first same-sex-marriage law on the West Coast. In all, nine states, along with the District of Columbia, allow gay marriage or will soon.

Same-sex-marriage supporters said they hope Washington's move spurs other states to follow suit.

"Hey, rest of the country: Get on board. There's nothing but love and happiness happening here," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said amid the ceremonies at City Hall.

SEATTLE YACHT CLUB

ON PORTAGE BAY

Same-sex-marriage day in Washington started with a coincidence.

For more than a year — long before gay marriage was even on the ballot — Monica Rozgay, 29, and Mary Davidson, 27, had planned to hold a commitment ceremony Dec. 8, 2012.

The Seattle couple still held that ceremony Saturday evening, an event at the Yacht Club with 170 guests who ate Dick's burgers, danced to pop music and honored two women in strapless white bridal gowns.

And then, at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the couple did another ceremony to make it legal.

"It is my privilege and it is my honor to declare you legally married," officiant Annemarie Juhlian announced just after midnight to raucous applause.

CITY HALL IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE

Even before Sunday, Jim Malatak and Rick Sturgill held a place in history as the first registered domestic partners in Washington state.

But a wedding, the Seattle couple said before getting married midday, is much more special.

"This is marriage," said Sturgill, 58, who said he proposed to Malatak, now 70, the night they met at a disco club 35 years ago.

"It was late and he was the last one on the dance floor," Sturgill said. "I was upstairs and I looked down and I watched him dance and I knew there was nobody else for me."

"Thirty-five years later, I said yes," Malatak said.

Also among the 142 couples married at City Hall were Danielle Yung, 32, and Robin Wyss, 34, who've been together for eight years, having met through an Internet dating site.

Yung, who is five months pregnant, works for the U.S. Department of Labor. Wyss is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union.

"Now our child will always know us as a married couple," Yung said.

As piano music drifted in the background, Yung told of growing up in Lincoln, Neb., "coming out when I was 14 and the sadness that I could never get married.

"It was completely inconceivable to me. But fast-forward and here we are."

Local judges officiated at the short ceremonies, which included the wedding of a Seattle Police Department detective and his partner, as well as writer and activist Dan Savage and his partner.

The newlyweds all exited City Hall to a rowdy crowd of supporters — an emotional outpouring that made Richard Sauer-Wooden break down.

"Thank you so much for being here, everybody," he yelled to the crowd after kissing his partner of 19 years, Liam Sauer-Wooden.

"Knowing that the public supports us means so much."

ABOARD THE MV SKANSONIA ON NORTH LAKE UNION

California teacher Ruth Myers and her partner were so excited about nearby Washington approving gay marriage that they eloped to be a part of it.

They decided only on Tuesday to come here, got their marriage license Thursday and were married Sunday afternoon aboard the Skansonia, which held a group wedding for four couples

"We can't wait to tell our kids one day that we eloped on the very first day of marriage in Washington," said Myers, 27, of Long Beach.

The newlyweds, who met four years ago through mutual friends, plan to have a larger ceremony in California next year.

LAKE UNION CAFE IN EASTLAKE

If it wasn't for Elizabeth Jacobs' lack of football knowledge, she might never have met the woman she married Sunday.

Jacobs, now 31 and a public-health consultant, met Erica Ware at a Super Bowl party in Atlanta nine years ago.

In the first quarter, Jacobs asked the group about the yellow line on the field marking how far the offensive team has to go to get a first down. How do officials get that thing on the field every play, she wondered.

The line, of course, is computer generated.

"Everybody laughed at me," Jacobs said. "But Erica took pity on me and explained it, and we talked the rest of the night. We've been inseparable ever since."

Jacobs, dressed in a black dress, and Ware, in a white shirt and gray vest, came alone to the ceremony at the Lake Union Cafe, as they moved to Seattle from Atlanta just three months ago and still don't have many friends here. Their witnesses were the eight couples getting married around them.

But the moment was still magical, they said.

SEATTLE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH ON FIRST HILL

Among some two dozen couples who were married at a group ceremony in the afternoon were two bearded and burly men from North Bend who became an overnight Internet sensation after a photograph of them went viral, showing them getting their marriage license Thursday wearing look-alike flannel shirts, parkas and duck-hunter caps.

Computer-programmer Randy Shepherd, 48, and Larry Duncan, 56, a retired psychiatric nurse, say that's their usual attire, though they did dress up in their best Western-style gear for the wedding: sports jackets, white shirts, vests with pocket watches, bolo ties and cowboy boots.

"There is lots of bloggers talking about it," said Duncan of the photo. "Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow. It makes your heart feel good."

The two met in Dallas 11 years ago and moved to North Bend four years later. Duncan had retired after having a minor stroke, and there were job opportunities here for Shepherd, who called Washington "more liberal, more gay friendly" than Texas.

"We have wonderful neighbors," said Shepherd. "They've been very supportive."

The two already wear wedding rings from a commitment ceremony in 2004. But this time it's official.

As he said that, Duncan teared up.

SHOTGUN CEREMONIES IN PIONEER SQUARE

At a storefront advertising itself as "Seattle's only 'Vegas' Style Wedding Chapel," two Lake City men were among those who took advantage of a week of free ceremonies for same-sex couples at the hall.

The couple, 39-year-old graphic designer Mark Smith and Todd Manoli, 36, who works in accounting at the same firm, joked that they were getting a quickie wedding after 18 years together.

"People think we're crazy. We're pretty much together 24/7," said Smith. "But having Todd around is great support. If I'm having a bad day, he's there to reassure things are fine."

Both sets of parents were there to support their sons.

Manoli, who had been teased about his sexuality in high school, once wondered how his dad would feel about his being gay. The news actually "was kind of a relief," said his father, Richard Manoli.

The two hadn't been getting along, and the dad feared it was because he'd been too strict. Both parents later went before the Renton School Board to ask that teachers not ignore the bullying of gay students.

"We love our son," Richard Manoli said.

PRIVATE HOME IN SHORELINE

For Loretta Graves and Ruth Barton, a quirky couple who have been together for 23 years, Sunday marked the culmination of a lifetime of fighting for gay rights.

The two met in 1990, at a planning meeting for a fundraiser to help children with AIDS.

"After the meeting, Loretta offered to walk me home," said Barton, now a 54-year-old theater manager for the Redmond Performing Arts Center. "We ended up sitting on my front porch and talking until sunup."

Graves fell in love with Barton's caring nature and Barton with Graves' sense of humor. They found understanding in each other and invented something they call "Hannimas" to honor their respective religious traditions — Barton is Jewish, Graves is Christian.

They held a commitment ceremony in 1991, but they never dreamed their union would become legal.

On Sunday, the same woman who officiated at the first ceremony came back 21 years later to make it so.

It was Hannimas. About 30 friends and family crammed into the living room of their one-story house for the occasion. And Barton's parents Skyped from Alabama while her brother Skyped in from Australia.

"They get the front-row seats," joked Graves, a 65-year-old former office administrator.

When the moment came, the couple renewed the vows they had made 21 years ago. Then the officiant turned to the crowd.

"By the power vested in me by the Universal Life Church — and by the state of Washington ... ," she said, "I now pronounce you lawfully, legally — and about damn time — married."

Brian M. Rosenthal: (206) 464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.


BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
First Baptist Church: Fourteen male and 11 female couples pledge their love during a group ceremony on Sunday, the first day same-sex couples could marry in Washington state. Hundreds of couples took advantage of the historic opportunity in a variety of settings.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle City Hall: Luke Botzheim, left, and Allan Carandang, of Seattle, descend the steps as a married couple.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
First Baptist Church: Larry Duncan, left, and his partner of 11 years, Randy Shepherd, both of North Bend, at their wedding.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle City Hall: Nancy Monahan, retired military, left, and Deb Needham, of Renton, exchanged vows.




COLIN DILTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Lake Union Cafe: Erica Ware, left, and Elizabeth Jacobs were one of nine couples married at the cafe.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle City Hall: Jake Zukowski, left, and Tres Henry, of Seattle, wore tongue-in-cheek T-shirts to their ceremony.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle Yacht Club: Mary Davidson, left, and Monica Rozgay, after saying "I do" at a midnight wedding at the Seattle Yacht Club attended by 170 guests.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Saltwater Church in Des Moines: Geoffery McAnalloy, foreground, has his arms around son Zayn as McAnalloy signs a marriage license. In the background is his spouse, Devin McAnalloy, and son Zeth. A third son, Zach, is mostly hidden.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
DiStefano Winery in Woodinville: Neil Ostroff, left, and Paul Hanson exchange rings at their ceremony.




COLIN DILTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
King County Courthouse: Jen Gilleran, left, and Erica Carlson listen to words of encouragement from family members after their marriage by a Superior Court judge.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
On the ferry MV Skansonia: Four couples exchange kisses aboard the MV Skansonia ferry, permanently moored at 205 N.E. Northlake Way, after marrying Sunday afternoon.




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